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Farm Tractors: A Complete Illustrated History

Farm Tractors: A Complete Illustrated History

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Farm Tractors: A Complete Illustrated History

394 pagine
4 ore
May 24, 2016


After the first tractors appeared on the scene in the late 1890s, it took another two decades and plenty of modifications for farmers to embrace this once-crude technology in favor of the steam engine, further advancing the power-farming revolution. Written by an international expert in agricultural machinery, Farm Tractors takes readers back to the nineteenth century to look at the precursors to modern tractors and travels through the years to follow the machine's evolution as tractors became indispensable equipment on farms across America.

• How steam-powered machinery gave way to tractors, and how tractors changed the way that farmers worked
• Prominent early manufacturers and models, including Henry Ford's legendary Model F, International Harvester's Farmall, the Waterloo Boy, John Deere, and many more;
• The use of hydraulics, the advent of diesel engines, the availability of four-wheel drive, and other technical breakthroughs;
• The introduction of new fuel sources as alternatives to gasoline;
• Specialized tractors for orchard work, high-acreage operations, carrying loads, cultivating, and other scenarios;
• The tractor industry's major expansion following World War II;
• Modern-day tractors and an outlook on the future of farm machinery
May 24, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Michael Williams (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) is Emeritus Senior Professor of Old Testament Studies at Calvin Theological Seminary, a member of the NIV Committee on Bible Translation and the Chairman of the NIrV Committee. He is the author of Deception in Genesis, The Prophet and His Message, Basics of Ancient Ugaritic, The Biblical Hebrew Companion for Bible Software Users, How to Read the Bible through the Jesus Lens, Hidden Prophets of the Bible and is editor and contributor of Mishneh Todah. His passion is to equip students with knowledge of the Old Testament and its languages so that they may grow in their comprehension and appreciation of redemptive history and be adequately prepared to promote and defend the faith through word and action. Michael resides in Grand Rapids, MI, with his wife, Dawn.  

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Farm Tractors - Michael Williams

Farm Tractors

A Lumina Media™ Book

Previously published in 2002 by Silverdale Books an imprint of Bookmart Ltd. Registered number 2372865

Copyright © 2002, 2016 Amber Books Ltd.

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library Print ISBN 1-85605-635-X

Editorial by: Amber Books Ltd

Project Editor: Conor Kilgallon

Picture research: Lisa Wren


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All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Lumina Media™, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in an acknowledged review.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Williams, Michael, 1935- author.

Title: Farm tractors : a complete illustrated history / Michael Williams.

Description: Irvine, CA : i-5 Press, [2016] | "Previously published in 2002

by Silverdale Books an imprint of Bookmart Ltd." | Includes index.

Identifiers: LCCN 2015038799 | ISBN 9781620082003

Subjects: LCSH: Farm tractors--History.

Classification: LCC TL233 .W555 2016 | DDC 629.225/209--dc23 LC record

available at

This book has been published with the intent to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter within. While every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this book, the author and publisher expressly disclaim any responsibility for any errors, omissions, or adverse effects arising from the use or application of the information contained herein.

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Chapter 1

Start of the Power Farming Revolution

Tractor power has revolutionized farming methods. When the first tractors trundled off on threshing tours in the American Midwest in the early 1890s, however, they were crude and unreliable. There was little evidence they would ever offer serious competition to the steam engine. Steam reigned supreme for another 20 years or so before tractors took the lead in the power farming revolution.

Like most tractors, Twin City machines, built by the Minneapolis Steel and Machinery Co., had become lighter and more versatile machines by the 1920s. The 1926 Twin City 21-32 tractor in the photograph was a four-cylinder model producing almost 36 HP.

In the second half of the nineteenth century, it was the steam engine that provided farmers with their first alternative to muscle power for jobs ranging from plowing to threshing. Until then, muscle power was provided by people who worked on the land and by large numbers of draft animals, including horses, oxen, mules and, occasionally, donkeys. For centuries, animals were used to pull the heavy loads, to plow and cultivate the soil, to power machines that threshed the grain and prepared feed for livestock and, in some cases, to give their owners a ride to and from the fields each day.

For the working animals, it was a life of toil, and some were literally worked to death. No doubt there were those that were well cared for and treated with at least a degree of sensitivity, but at a time when so many people experienced brutality in their own lives, there was probably little compassion to spare for the animals with which they worked. As for the humans, although animals provided most of the power needed to grow and harvest crops in areas such as Europe and North America, there was still a huge demand worldwide for manpower in agriculture. Millions of people spent their working lives on farms doing jobs that were often strenuous and repetitive, and sometimes dangerous as well.

This was the way farming was organized for thousands of years. Viewed from the perspective of highly mechanized agriculture in the twenty-first century, it may have a rustic charm, but it was also an extremely inefficient way to produce food. The large numbers of working animals consumed significant quantities of the food they helped to grow, and the productivity per farm worker was so low that just a few centuries ago well over 50 percent of the working population had to be employed on the land to provide enough food to meet the needs of a country such as Britain or France.

Steam engines, together with many millions of hard-working horses, oxen and mules, provided most of the farming industry’s power needs before the development of the tractor. This more efficient power source helped to produce food more abundantly and more cheaply than ever before.

On British farms, the daily work rate for a skilled plowman and two or three horses was an acre (0.4 hectares) per day in medium to heavy soils, increasing to 1.5 acres (0.6 hectares) daily on light, easily worked land. The average horsepower of new tractors sold in Britain during the early 2000s was almost 120 HP, and a plowman with this size of tractor would expect to plow 2 to 3 acres (0.8 to 1.2 hectares) per hour.

Thanks to the development of the steam engine and the tractor, few people in the developed world experience the stresses and strains of farming solely with muscle power. It remains, however, the daily reality for millions of people in developing countries where food production is still limited to the pace of a team of oxen or the physical strength of a farmer and his family.

Power farming, based first on the steam engine and then on the tractor, has achieved a massive increase in farming efficiency and productivity. With mechanized agriculture, just 2 or 3 percent of the working population produce enough to feed the other 97 percent or so, with draft animals making occasional nostalgic appearances at old-time farming events and traditional plowing matches.

J. I. Case Threshing Machine, Co. was one of the world’s biggest manufacturers of agricultural steam engines in the early 1900s. By 1924, the company had become one of the few traditional steam engine manufacturers to make the switch to tractor production.

The Start of the Revolution

Britain had already established a clear lead in the use of steam power in factories and in the mining industry, and the first farms to use steam power were also British. The power farming revolution started in a modest way in 1798, when John Wilkinson, a wealthy businessman, installed a stationary engine on his farm near Wrexham in north Wales. This is the first recorded example of steam power being used on a farm, and Wilkinson used it to power a threshing machine, probably replacing one or two horses that would previously have been used for the same job.

Steam engines were inefficient and extremely expensive in the late eighteenth century, and it is unlikely that Wilkinson would have expected to cover the cost of the engine through just a few weeks of threshing work each year. He did, however, have close business links with one of the leading steam engine manufacturers; using a steam engine on his own farm may have been an attempt to encourage other landowners to follow his example and invest in steam.

The next reference to a steam engine on a farm comes from Scotland in the following year when a respectable farmer in East Lothian was using a stationary engine for threshing. In this case, the farm was close to a coal mine, from which the farmer was able to collect his fuel from the pit-head at a reduced price. There are more reports of engine installations on farms in Britain during the next 40 years, but the numbers were small and the majority of farmers remained unconvinced of their usefulness. In some parts of the United States, farmers were apparently more willing to switch to steam power. A survey of agricultural steam engines in 1838 showed Pennsylvania and Louisiana leading the trend with steam power, with 274 engines already installed on Louisiana farms and estates, where they powered cane-crushing equipment for sugar production. Some of the engines were imported from Britain, but American manufacturers were expanding rapidly and would soon dominate the US domestic market.

In his book Early Stationary Steam Engines in America, Carroll W. Pursell quotes negotiations in 1812 between a Louisiana sugar estate owner and Benjamin Latrobe, one of the first of the American steam engine manufacturers. The engine was needed to power a sugar mill, and the price Latrobe quoted for an engine with a 30 cm (12 in) diameter cylinder was $2500. This figure would leave Latrobe with no profit at all, he claimed, but it would cover some of his overheads, and it might lead to further orders on which he could make a profit, which suggests that Mr. Latrobe was a persuasive salesman. Most of the steam engines installed on Louisiana farms replaced the animal power previously used for the crushers, and Pursell quotes another survey in 1840, when there were an estimated 400 steam-powered mills in the state, leaving 354 powered by animals.

From Stationary to Portable

In spite of the limited acceptance of stationary steam power on British farms and more impressive statistics from the sugar estates of Louisiana, the commercial impact of the agricultural steam engine was still minuscule even by the late 1830s. This was 40 years after John Wilkinson first showed how steam power could be used for threshing. Nevertheless, the technical breakthrough that made steam power available on many thousands of farms was on its way.

The breakthrough came when a steam engine was mounted on a chassis and four wheels so that horses could tow it from farm to farm. This was the portable engine, and it took a surprisingly long time for such a logical idea to be developed. The portable engine made a significant difference to the economics of using steam power for farm work, as it could be operated by contractors, meaning that groups of farmers in the same area could share the cost and use of an engine.

Several British companies were developing portable engines at about the same time, but credit for being the first to demonstrate the idea usually goes to J. R. & A. Ransome of Ipswich, now a subsidiary of the Textron company and known as Ransomes. It took a portable engine weighing 1.75 tonnes (1.72 tons) to the 1841 Royal Show, where it was used in a threshing demonstration and described as the great novelty of the show. The Ransomes portable was said to produce as much power as five horses. A special design feature was a pipe taking the waste steam into the chimney, where it mingled with the smoke from the fire to extinguish sparks that might be released to cause a fire in the heaps of threshed straw.

Most of the steam engines used on farms were portables, used mainly for stationary work, such as threshing, and were pulled from farm to farm by teams of horses. This picture clearly shows the metal seat for the driver and the wooden pole where the horses were hitched.

In the following year, Ransome followed its success with the portable by building the world’s first self-propelled agricultural steam engine, which it took to the 1842 Royal Show. The self-propelled engine, the immediate ancestor of the steam traction engine, made a slow commercial start, but the portable was an immediate success. By 1851, just 10 years after the first demonstration, the number of manufacturers of portable engines in Britain had reached at least a dozen and there were an estimated 8000 portables on UK farms.

Portable engines were also attracting interest in the United States, where the potential market for agricultural steam power was much bigger than in Britain. It is likely that some engines were built on a one-off basis before commercial production started, but the surviving records suggest that at least two manufacturers were offering portable engines for sale by 1849. Charles Hoad and Gilbert Bradford of Watertown, New York, were awarded a medal when one of their engines was shown at the 1851 New York Fair. A.L. Archambault’s farm engine was built in Philadelphia and was offered in three sizes with power outputs ranging up to 30 HP, according to some reports.

A Growing Manufacturing Base

More US and Canadian manufacturers flooded into the market from the 1850s onwards, building both portable and traction engines. The first J.I. Case engine was built in 1869, when the demand for steam power was beginning to expand rapidly, and Case became the United States’ largest manufacturer of portable and traction engines and also the biggest worldwide. The table on page 8 shows how Case production figures reflect trends in the market, including the rapid collapse in sales when tractor power took over. Case built its last steam engine in 1924, when the production total had reached more than 36,000 engines in 55 years.

The first Case tractor was an experimental model built in 1892. Based on the chassis and wheels of a Case traction engine, its power unit was a twin-cylinder gasoline engine. Reliability problems persuaded Case to abandon the tractor experiments and concentrate on its steam engines.

As well as increasing production, the steam engine manufacturers were also making design improvements to boost performance and efficiency, and an indication of the progress in efficiency is available in the results of trials carried out annually by the Royal Agricultural Society of England (RASE). The trials measured fuel efficiency or the weight of coal used per horsepower-hour of power output, which means the fuel burnt to produce one horsepower for a period of one hour. They were organized with great care in order to ensure the results were as accurate as possible and to allow results for different years to be compared. The fuel for the engines was supplied from the same coal mine each year, and an analysis of the coal was published to make the results as useful as possible.

The results for the winning portables in six years of trials between 1849 and 1855 are shown in the table below, which was originally published in The Engineer in 1856.

A Farming Solution?

By the 1850s, steam power on farms was still restricted to stationary work, including threshing and driving machines for crushing or milling grain for feeding livestock. This was the same type of work that steam engines had first handled 50 years previously. Steam was already providing power for manufacturing industries and for mining, and steam-powered railways and ships were revolutionizing transport; however, agriculture—the biggest industry of them all—still relied on horses and oxen for many important jobs, including plowing, cultivating and harvesting.

It was a challenge that attracted both engineers and farmers, who invested large amounts of time and money seeking ways to make steam power available for field work. Most of the development work was in the 1850s, and many of the experiments in the United States, Britain and France produced expensive failures. The breakthrough came when John Fowler and others in Britain developed the cable plowing system, using a steam-powered windlass to pull a plow attached to a cable back and forth across a field. Cable plowing was popular in Europe, but failed to attract interest in the United States and Canada, where soil conditions in some areas allowed steam engines to plow by direct traction with the plow hitched to the rear of a traction engine. As the end of the nineteenth century approached, the future of the big companies specializing in agricultural steam engine production must have looked secure, and it is unlikely that the arrival of the first tractors would have caused much anxiety.

Cable plowing and cultivating were developed to overcome soil compaction and other problems caused by heavy traction engines. Two cable plowing engines with a winding drum were parked at opposite sides of a field, and an attached plow or cultivator pulled back and forth between them.

Evolution of the Tractor

While it was in Britain that the first steam engines were developed, the evolution of the tractor began in the United States and later spread to Europe. Credit for building the first tractor is usually given to John Charter of the Charter Gasoline Engine Co. based at Sterling, Illinois. In 1889, Charter mounted a big, single-cylinder gasoline engine made by his company on the wheels of a Rumely traction engine.

The tractor was taken to farms near Madison, South Dakota, where it was used to drive a pulley belt powering a threshing machine. The performance of the tractor must have been satisfactory because Charter’s company received orders to supply a further five or six tractors to farmers or contractors in the same area.

Competition for the Charter arrived in 1892 when at least three more experimental or pre-production tractors came onto the scene, all designed for threshing work and all built on the running gear of steam traction engines, with a slow-revving gasoline engine to provide the power. Traction engine wheels and drive gears provided a readily available base for the engine, and it was a logical starting point for the early tractor pioneers.

One of the 1892 arrivals was the Capital tractor made by the Dissinger brothers from Wrightsville, Pennsylvania. They used an engine built under licence from the Otto company in Germany to power their tractor, which was designed for threshing. Little more was heard of the brothers’ first tractor venture, but the Dissinger family returned to the tractor market a few years later with a new Capital tractor which proved popular in the early 1900s. A more significant name in the list of tractor pioneers in 1892 was the J.I. Case Threshing Machine Co. It mounted a twin-cylinder, four-stroke Patterson gasoline engine with 20 HP rated output on a set of traction engine wheels and axles—made presumably by Case—and this was used as a test vehicle.

A New Commitment

The fact that the leading agricultural steam engine company took an interest at such an early stage in a potentially competing power source shows impressive foresight, and the fact that it also quickly abandoned the project was almost certainly the correct commercial decision. In the 1890s, steam engines were already benefiting from well over a century of technical and commercial development, and they had established a reputation for reliability and a reasonable level of efficiency. Gasoline engines were still at a very early stage of development and were far from reliable, with primitive fuel and ignition systems that were notoriously temperamental. The Case engineers soon discovered that the gasoline engine on their tractor lacked the reliability of their steam engines, and it was this that brought the tractor development program to an abrupt end.

Case showed equally good judgement when it decided to start a new development program for tractors almost 20 years later. By about 1910, when its new tractor project began, production of Case traction and portable engines had reached record levels; however, the company decided this was the right time to move into the tractor market and, as usual, its timing was perfect. While many rival steam engine manufacturers simply continued building traditional engines for what soon became a shrinking market, Case was ready to move into the tractor market just in time to catch the massive sales boom encouraged by the 1914–18 war. It was also able to take advantage of almost 20 years of technical improvements in gasoline engine design and subsequently build tractors that were much more reliable than anything it could have offered in 1892.

Froelich Enters the Fray

The third member of the group of tractor pioneers in 1892 was John Froelich, who lived in Froelich, Iowa, a small town named after his parents. At an early stage in his career, Froelich was running a steam-powered grain elevator plus a feed mill, but he also built up a business as a contractor, operating his own well-drilling equipment and also working with a threshing crew on farms in the Dakotas. In 1890, he bought a gasoline engine from the Charter Gasoline Engine Co. It produced 4.5 HP rated output and had one horizontal cylinder.

Froelich bought the engine to power the drill he used for his well-boring business, and it may have encouraged his idea to use a similar engine in a tractor. It is also possible that he may have heard about the Charter tractors when he was working on farms in the Dakotas. He decided to build his own tractor, and the power unit he chose was a single-cylinder Van Duzen gasoline engine made in Cincinnati, Ohio. While most of the early gasoline engines at that time had a horizontal cylinder, the Van Duzen engine was a vertical design.

The cylinder of the Van Duzen engine was massive, with the 356 mm (14 in) bore and stroke providing 35.3 liters (2155 cu. in) capacity and producing a decidedly modest 16 HP output. The biggest engine currently available in a John Deere tractor is a six-cylinder diesel with a turbocharger and intercooler, delivering well over 400 HP from 14 liters (854 cu. in).

This is a replica of the tractor built by John Froelich in 1892. It was based on surviving photographs and engineering drawings of the original and was built to feature in a John Deere historical film. Most details are reasonably accurate, but it has a much later John Deere twin-cylinder power unit.

Froelich and William Mann, one of his employees, made a wooden chassis to carry the engine, and this was mounted on traction engine running gear. Drive shafts, gear wheels and other components were bought from the Robinson steam engine company in Richmond, Indiana. The tractor was completed in 1892 and, after

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